The Canadian startup Lighthouse Immersive revealed on Thursday that it has reached a significant agreement with Walt Disney Animation Studios, giving it access to the studio’s complete catalog of movies, from “Steamboat Willy” to “Encanto” and everything in between. This December in Toronto, the new exhibition “Disney Animation: Immersive Experience” will make its debut before traveling the world in 2023.
Oscar-winning producer J. Miles Dale described it as “a blend of the best of many Disney movies, a ride at Disneyland, and being in a world where you can turn around in any direction and experience everything else.”
The agreement is the newest venture in an expanding field of immersive entertainment. There have been no fewer than ten significant immersive art exhibitions in Toronto since June 2020. Commercial production companies like Toronto-based Lighthouse Immersive have propelled the genre into the mainstream with films like “Immersive Van Gogh” and “Immersive Klimt: Revolution” as well as “Immersive Frida Kahlo” and “Immersive King Tut: Magic Journey to the Light.”
Nowadays, the attractions are usually housed in imposing galleries or warehouses that have been fitted with giant screens. These displays project images and movies, which, when combined with sound and other sensory inputs, allow viewers to become “immersed” in an artist’s work.
The choruses of fans and detractors of the sector expand along with it. Some applaud how technology has democratized art and made it more approachable for viewers of a younger generation. Others complain that the projections have distorted and appropriated the original works, and some wonder if these projections are “art” in and of themselves.
Regardless of where they stand, however, art critics and industry insiders concur that the increasing number of for-profit, high-tech entertainment companies are irrevocably revolutionizing the world of the arts by altering how people consume art and compelling traditional galleries to come up with new, inventive ways to display their collections.
The result of the entire experience, according to author and art critic Andrea Carson Barker, is that consumers are expecting more from art. “Today, people want experiences that are more profound, tech-based, and experiential. It will be interesting to see how traditional museums respond to this challenge because it offers one for them.
While projection-mapping-based immersive art shows have been around for a while, the idea didn’t really catch on in North America until the year 2020. The attraction became well-known thanks to an episode of the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” which depicted the show’s lead character Emily visiting an immersive Van Gogh display in France.
Similar displays quickly spread throughout the world. Produced by Lighthouse Immersive, Toronto’s own immersive Van Gogh attraction debuts in June 2020 before touring North America. Over 5 million tickets have been sold for the exhibition by the Canadian production business overall.
Immersive displays could, for the most part, adapt and continue open as pandemic regulations forced the closure of many other arts and entertainment venues. The Van Gogh display in Toronto changed its policy to welcome drive-in visitors at the height of the outbreak. Immersive exhibitions were one of the few remaining places to experience culture for many isolated households.
Although this technology has been there for a while, Louis-Etienne Dubois, an associate professor of creative industries management at Toronto Metropolitan University, stated that the epidemic has given it a fresh push.
For the venerable animation studio, which rarely shares its work with other production firms, the new “Disney Animation: Immersive Experience” represents a significant relationship.
According to Clark Spencer, president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, “the partnership with Lighthouse Immersive represents a first for Disney Animation.” “Bringing the greatest in animated storytelling and the foremost authorities in the immersive art experience together is a dream.”
The exhibition will make its debut in Toronto, which has become one of the world’s hubs for these immersive experiences. From there, it will travel to other North American cities including Cleveland, Nashville, Detroit, Denver, Boston, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, and Columbus. Additional cities in this continent are still to be announced.
The creator of Lighthouse Immersive, Corey Ross, declared that this agreement “cements our position as the global leader in immersive entertainment.” We began production here in Toronto right in the midst of the pandemic, making this a truly remarkable Canadian success story in this emerging field of entertainment.
Social media has also played a significant role in the technology’s explosive increase in popularity. Instagram and TikTok feeds, particularly those of teenagers and young adults, were overrun with posts from these immersive installations throughout the pandemic.
According to the business website, Lighthouse Immerse actively seeks out social media influencers in Toronto to help promote “Immersive Van Gough” in exchange for “some major gifts.” Tourists are also urged to scan QR codes at the exhibits to access specially created Instagram filters that improve how visitors record their experience.
According to Dave Kemp, associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Image Arts, “a lot of these experiences that have been built recently are very much about providing that type of Instagrammable moment, as well as an intriguing setting to explore.”
Our relationship to art and how we interact with it are also being called into question by this trend of reworking old works through an immersive lens. Visitors are now more likely to interact with a copy of an artwork rather than the original.
In an immersive encounter, Kemp claimed that “the atmosphere of the original photo or painting—being in the presence of that exact original object”—isn’t fully duplicated.
According to industry insiders, the boundaries between diverse types of art and entertainment are being blurred by the booming projection-mapping market. Is it more like a theme park experience than true art?
According to Barker, who has seen a number of sizable immersive art projects, “it is very commercial.” “I thought the gift shops were almost more advanced than the actual shows,”
But according to Barker, it is this invention that pushes the bounds of the form and questions how we define “art.”
The concept of art is expanding, in large part because of technology and social media, whether you consider the history of art, the canon, and the more recent democratization of art. For a very long time, art hasn’t been restricted to museums and galleries, the speaker claimed.
Both Barker and Dubois emphasized that although immersive art displays are priced similarly to typical art galleries or museums, they aren’t always aiming at the same demographic.
Dubois added, “They’re attempting to accomplish different things. Museums and galleries offer more educational and cerebral activities, whereas immersive installations appeal to those who seek a passive, sensory experience.
However, the popularity of these immersive installations is prompting conventional museums and galleries to reconsider how they exhibit their art and interact with visitors, particularly children, according to Barker.
“Competition in a market is healthy and it is paving the way for museums to display their work in a more creative way,” she said. “Museums have a chance to engage a younger generation.”
Nelson is of the opinion that production firms are only “scratching the surface” of what the technology is capable of, much like the immersive entertainment sector as a whole.
The goal of projection mapping, according to him, is to project images onto non-flat surfaces. “They’re barely scratching the surface of what this technology is capable of at this point, in terms of the degree of illusion and how it can produce this sensation of presence.”
The business should cooperate with more modern artists to produce installations that are narrative-based and uniquely created for the medium, according to Barker, Dubois, Kemp, and Nelson, all of the experts who spoke with the Star.
Kemp remarked, “Actual immersive environments are incredible, but I would love to see work by contemporary and living artists, as well as exhibits where either work is made specifically for those environments or where artists are working with the (production) teams to make their existing work suit that environment.
Lighthouse Immersive has produced works in collaboration with active artists, most recently “Library At Night” by Robert Lepage and “TOUCH,” a live dance and multimedia project by Guillaume Côté.
According to Ross, “we’ve really worked and tried to push out the numerous ways in which this immersive entertainment can be put out and how it can be utilized.” Ross also expressed his desire that the medium would continue to embrace narrative-driven works.
Given the profitability and effectiveness of the current paradigm, Nelson is doubtful if the entire industry will follow that course. Although projection-mapping technology is expensive and requires a sizable upfront investment for new businesses, installations are often simple to duplicate and the digital software is reprogrammable, according to the expert.
The firms, he said, “will ride this form as long as they can.” People won’t want to return if they don’t begin experimenting with a better “wow” factor or with anything that actually feel like a true tale with replay value.